When it comes to biographical pieces, there are times you turn away from the academic or the historical figures and want to know more about those people who interest you for no reason other than you see them on television or in the movies. ‘How did they get there?’ or ‘What dirt do they have behind the scenes?’ are two questions that often pop into my head. When I saw that Eric Braeden put out a memoir, I thought back to my guilty pleasure obsession with The Young and the Restless (Y&R) in the past and wanted to learn more about this ultimate villain. The name Victor Newman has crossed my lips many times, when referring to the evil side I sometimes like to bring out, leaving me to wonder more about the actor and how this character came to fruition. The attentive reader will, as I did, learn that Breaden’s life was much more than the past 37 years in the fictional Genoa City, Wisconsin, spanning decades of work and interesting stories. A fabulous collection of thoughts and biographical tales that will astound and shock anyone who gives it a chance.
Born Hans Jörg Gudegast in the small northern German town of Kiel, the story begins by exploring life in the middle of the Second World War. Braeden (I will use his current name, so as not to confuse the review reader) and his family struggled to make ends meet with a father who was caught up in the Nazi rhetoric and served Hitler as well as he could. When, at age 12, Braeden’s father died of a heart attack, the push was on to support his family and make a future for himself. Working hard and keeping up his grades, Braeden was offered an opportunity to move to the United States upon graduation, which he took without looking back. Settling in Texas, Braeden learned the value of hard work, but felt the sense of being a villain because of his German background. Moving around, he eventually settled in Montana on an athletic scholarship and worked harder than he ever had before. The lights and sounds of Los Angeles eventually lured him away, at which time he learned some hard truths about the past he had been shielded from before; the role Germany and the Nazis played in the Second World War. Braeden explains that his scholastic upbringing sought to ‘erase’ those years and so he was unaware of the cruelty that Hitler imposed on the Jews. He took it upon himself to educate anyone who would listen that German does not equate to Nazi. Funny enough, when Braeden found his calling as an actor, he was typecast on stage and in film/television as the ‘German scientist’ or ‘Nazi soldier’. He pushed back where he could, trying to personalise the characters and not playing in the stereotype. This led to some wonderful opportunities and stellar movie roles, all of which are detailed within the book, as well as the moment he was faced with the request to change from Hans Jörg Gudegast to Eric Braeden.
Besides his love of acting, Braeden kept up his passion for sports, specifically soccer, which he played semi-professionally for many years while acting. This team mentality helped a great deal when the opportunity to act in a soap opera came along. It was February 1980 when Braeden was asked to sign a three month contract as Victor Newman. He agreed, reluctantly and was prepared to leave after the term ended, but was persuaded by his wife, Dale, to give it more time. Through countless negotiations with William Bell, the creator of Y&R, Braeden hashed out a thorough backstory for Victor Newman and took him in many directions. It is here that Braeden was able to explore himself as an actor and accrue scores of fans from all walks of life. I no longer need to hide my head when I admit that I am a fan of Victor or Y&R, as Braeden tells of world leaders and professional athletes who were diehard fans, approaching him for news and praise. Braeden recounts some of his fondest memories and those co-stars who touched his life. With thirty-seven years on set, Braeden is as excited to stay as he has ever been, loving the role and all those who surround him, though his own family is the true passion of his life. A wonderfully succinct piece that pulls no punches, but also keeps the story as real as possible, Eric Braeden is surely a man much more complicated that the Victor Newman for whom he is likely best known.
One can never be sure what will come out of a memoir written by a television star. Will it be all about the struggles and woeful losses, balanced off by a few great decisions and strong agents? Will there be a collection of knives tossed into the backs of former co-stars, allowing the piece to reveal previously unknown facts about the actors in a ‘tell-all’ format? Whatever one might expect, Braeden bucks the trend and offers a powerful piece that is rooted less in the dramatic growth of his career as a collection of passions that have made him the man he is today. While acting and the rigours of life on set plays a key role within the narrative, there is a strong and ongoing push to open up the German/Jewish dialogue, whereby Braeden does not allow the world to forget the past with which his country of birth indelibly marked history, but seeks to rectify that past and build towards a stronger and more understanding future. Braeden is tirelessly seeking to ensure the reader understands that he is not ashamed of Germany as his homeland, but is also not prepared to be vilified for being born under a regime that was not of his choosing or desire. With countless vignettes that move the narrative along, Braeden captures the reader from the start and does not let go until the final pages of the memoir. Raw, honest, and a pleasant dose of reality, Braeden has shown the potential power that comes from a well-crafted biographical piece.
Kudos, Mr. Braeden for such a refreshing memoir that pulls on the personal and professional aspects of your life so fluidly. I learned so much more than I thought and will surely recommend this to anyone who has an interest in seeing the bigger picture.